Seema Singh recaps some of the history of the Aakash and related efforts for Forbes India. The Aakash got its start with a tender for 10K units from IIT Jodhpur, which was expanded to an order for 100K from the Indian government. DataWind, the company that secured the initial tender, ran a pilot which received much fanfare, but distributed only 572 tablets to 19 colleges.
There was some debate as to whether these met the initial spec; and work was refocused on an updated design, the Aakash 2. It’s unclear whether the rest of the inital 10K tablets were distributed to the government; 30K of that model were sold online marketed as the UbiSlate. The Aakash 2 is currently being tested by DataWind and two institutions in India, with hopes for a [new] school pilot of 100K students this fall. The first of those machines are being deployed this month.
DataWind has had trouble meeting deadlines and demand. They were beset by many external pressures: heavy pressure to keep the price down, the scrutiny of a very public launch, and requirements that much of their supply chain and manufacturing be based in India (which limited the number of possible partners and added a few single points of failure).
They have accumulated many non-binding statements of interest in v.2 of the tablet; but it’s not clear how many will convert now to sales. And after a half-year of heady press they have suffered a half-year of negative backlash. They now aim to offer the commercial version of the Aakash 2 for just under $65; and the Indian government still plans to subsidize half the cost of a model for students – at least for the 100K in this year’s pilot. While this is still an impressive undertaking, as it was when announced last year, the delay has hurt the national story. Now people like Singh are calling the project a disaster rather than a landmark success, and worrying that China will launch a similar program first.
Singh highlights a few related projects from around the country:
- The “$10 laptop” effort started in 2009 by Technical Education secretary NK Sinha (which did not produce a laptop nor contribute IP to the current project)
- The Ministry of Rural Development’s socioeconomic census, which commissioned 640K tablets in 2011 and 2012 for its door-to-door surveys (at $72, from Bharat Electronics, with no drama but their admitted inability to meet the ministry’s request of a $35 price point)
- The Tamil Nadu government’s “one laptop per student” program to deliver 1.4M laptops to college students each year for the next 5 years. (They have 6 different vendors sharing the task)
She notes that some of the Tamil Nadu vendors are finding it difficult to complete their deliveries under budget. But neglects to note that the program was successful enough for Uttar Pradesh to copy it, recently putting out a tender for roughly 250K tablets (for students passing their 10th grade exams) and 200K laptops (for those passing their 12th grade exams), as year 1 of a multi-year program.
We will see whether DataWind manages to make good on their goal of millions of sales this year. Kapil Sibal continues to push for all 220M students in India to have their own laptop or tablet. And he continues to say compelling things of his vision, such as “It will be a device that creates content.” One way or another, I hope that vision is realized.
The Knight Foundation yesterday announced it would join community leaders from Charlotte, North Carolina in contributing to Project L.I.F.T., a 5-year $55M+ project to improve education in West Charlotte schools. (It began last January with a $40M round of fundraising; and this year raised another $15M.)
Knight’s contribution will fund a community engagement coordinator to keep parents and local communities in touch with the project as it develops, and for an OLPC program (including XOs and training) for all students and teachers in grades K-5 in the L.I.F.T. schools: roughly 3,200 in all.
This builds on our work together earlier this year, to develop a digital literacy program at Holmes Elementary School in Miami. Our experience so far suggests that giving elementary students access to computers – and letting them take them home and use them with their families – helps promote better informed and engaged communities.
We are delighted to see this new project take off within the framework of the existing L.I.F.T project. And looking forward to working more closely with the Knight Foundation, whose input has already informed some of our practices. Their background is in community engagement rather than education, which complements the viewpoints of our other partners. And the added focus on community engagement is one of those necessary elements that can make all the difference in longevity and impact.
Children receiving XOs in Miami’s Holmes Elementary School
Christoph Derndorfer recently interviewed Rangan Srikhanta, CEO of OLPC Australia, about their plans for the coming year. An excerpt:
You recently launched a new initiative called “One Education” and received $11.7 Million in government funding… Can you tell us more about these developments?
We pitched to the Australian government to kick-off a pilot for 50,000 XOs… a $20m project that would including funding from schools, corporations as well as from government. The program will also provide at least 15 hours of teacher professional development (via moodle) to over 2,500 teachers [to] kick-start a movement to make OLPC the program of choice for primary school children.
What are the biggest challenges that you need to address before you can turn OLPC Australia’s vision into a reality?
Scaling our operations to meet the demand (2 months ago we were a 2,500 XO an year organisation, now we are proposing to do 50,000 in one year) that will be coming through our very small offices in the next 12-18 months. In Australia there are high expectations for service delivery/support.
Read the whole interview.
Over at OLPC-SF, Sameer and Alex have been exploring new ways to experiment with the bookserver. They have a new OVA package for Pathagar that you can run: vm-pathagar.ova.zip. From their blog:
This is a joint effort between me and Alex Kleider, who helped me debug, test and document the endeavor (or endeavour, as Alex would put it). The documentation and virtual machine took shape, largely driven by our need to have the Pathagar Book Server running on a DreamPlug for Madagascar. To that end, we sat down and installed Pathagar on a virtual machine and documented the steps. We used James Simmons’ instructions as a starting point. While the original Pathagar application was written by Sayamindu Dasgupta and Kushal Das, we used Manuel Quinones’ version that has some more tweaks and fixes.
Here’s a screenshot of it in action:
If you are interested in offline libraries, try the Pathagar book server and see what you can do with it.
We are pleased to announce the release of OLPC OS 11.3.1 for XO-1, XO-1.5 and as a formal stable release for XO-1.75. Features, known issues, and installation details are covered in the release notes.
A heartfelt thanks to our many contributors, upstreams, testers, and other supporters. Comments and additional feedback are welcome on the devel mailing list; please download it and try it out.
If you have been following the release candidate process in the last few weeks: this is candidate build 885, released as final with no changes.
Thanks and enjoy!
The OLPC Development Team
Scott posts a quick update on the status of the Nell designs for narrative interfaces and its application to OLPC’s recent literacy project in Ethiopia:
The Literacy Project is a collaboration between four different groups: the One Laptop per Child Foundation (“Nell”), the MIT Media Lab (“Tinkrbook”), the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, and the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University (“Omo”). The goal is to reach children even further from educational infrastructure than OLPC has ventured to date. In particular, the Ethiopia pilots are complete child-led bootstraps, attempting to teach kids to read English (an official language of Ethiopia) who neither speak English nor read in any language yet. There are no teachers in the village, and no literate adults either.
Adapting Nell to this environment has some challenges: how do we guide students through pedagogic material with stories if they don’t yet understand the language of the stories we want to tell? But the essential challenge is the same: we have hundreds of apps and videos on the tablets and need to provide scaffolding and guidance to the bits most appropriate for each child at any given time, just as Nell seeks to guide children through the many activities included in Sugar. In the literacy project there is also a need for automated assessment tools: how can we tell that the project is working? How can we determine what parts of our content are effective in their role?